KARACHI: A welcome break from news of talks between Pakistan and the US and Pakistan and India was provided by someone wholly unrelated to these developments – a human rights activist called Prof. Ram Puniyani.
“Whatever happens in India, affects Pakistan and whatever happens here definitely influences India,” he remarked while speaking at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday. And, then, as a corollary, he added: A democratic Pakistan is in favour of India.
Extremism on both sides
He was equally candid about his own country. Prof. Puniyani said that democracy in his country was being threatened by Hindu extremism. “It has [developed] a cancer internally. Politics for us that is in the name of religion is very dangerous,” he admitted. That is why he has travelled across India to promote secular thought and communal harmony.
He took on this work after deciding to retire from teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, in 2004. Today he is associated with many initiatives and has been part of investigations on violations of the human rights of minorities. For example, he was part of people’s tribunals that examined abuses in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.
He spends some of his time conducting workshops and delivering lectures in different parts of the country on themes related to the threats to democracy, the agenda of communal politics, myths about minorities and the politics of terror.
“No religion allows the killing of innocent people,” he stressed before giving an example from his own backyard: “To suppress the Dalits is a part of politics in India.” We must not forget that all citizens are equal, irrespective of their religious affiliation. “But those who are against such rights do politics in the name of religion,” he maintained. Indeed, his words find resonance in Pakistan.
He commented on how there were also some groups in Pakistan that did not consider some sects Muslim. “This trend was not common before the partition of the subcontinent,” he reminded his audience. “Muslims and Hindus alike believed in Sufism. There were no differences between them. Almost all minorities were with Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom movement.”
There has been change in Indian society as well. He felt it was stronger before 1980 when democratic values flourished. “But the political situation altogether changed when issues such as Ram Mandir blocked the way and spread hatred. Politics was derailed.” He was referring to the holy site in Ayodhya where a mosque was built in 1528 - some Hindus say at the spot where one of the most revered deities in Hinduism, Lord Ram, was born. The Babri mosque was destroyed in 1992, becoming a flashpoint between Hindus and Muslims for years.
“If Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was secular then I am a secular person. If Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is considered secular then Prof. Ram Puniyani is also a secular man,” he said. Gandhi was secular and did not mix politics with religion nor did he include religion in politics. “He was also assassinated by those who pushed him for Hindu Raj in India.”
Prof. Puniyani dwelt on Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech on August 11, 1947. “It was a masterpiece. It was a matchless speech,” he said. “Jinnah was a secular person by heart but he was living in a communal body – the Muslim League. His thoughts were sidelined after his death. It is the need of hour to follow his principles for today’s Pakistan to materialise Jinnah’s dream.”
India and the US
“The progressive people in India consider America’s friendship with India very dangerous,” remarked the professor. “This superpower is not in favour of India. Pakistan has been used by America and now its India’s turn. But we won’t allow America to destroy us.” The only solution for us to strengthen regional politics, he felt.
This is also needed because generally speaking Pakistan has been always blamed whenever unusual tragedies strike India.“Both countries spend on defence and not on education, health or youth,” stressed the academic.
“We can’t change the history but at least we can make a good future.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2012.
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